Detroit Lions' 2020 NFL Draft Grades
The Detroit Lions completed the 2020 NFL Draft, and general manager Bob Quinn came away with a bunch of players who should see immediate playing time at positions of need.
Here are my grades on each of the Lions' nine selections.
Remember, a “C” is an average grade, and shouldn’t be taken as a slight.
Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State
(First round, 3rd overall)
- 4.48-second 40-yard dash
- 41-inch vertical
The consensus pre-draft favorite for the Lions came to fruition. As my second-best non-quarterback prospect in the draft, Okudah’s value at third overall is passable. However, it’s not typical that corners are drafted top three in the draft. The last time a corner went in the first three picks was in 1997. That’s not to say it’s much of a reach, though, either, considering the player Okudah projects to be at the next level. In the last 20 years, there have been seven corners selected in picks four through seven. Given that the NFL is a passing league, there were plenty of reaches in the first round by other teams to grab a cover-man.
It would have been nice to trade down a couple of spots and still grab the Okudah, but no firm offers were ever received in order for the Lions to move back. So, the Lions stood pat and took the best player available.
For the Lions man-press scheme, Okudah is the perfect match. He had the longest wingspan of any defensive back at the combine and has some of the quickest feet at the position. Okudah’s hip fluidity is unmatched and will translate well at the next level.
Personal selection: CB Jeff Okudah
D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
(Second round, 35th overall)
- 4.48-second 40-yard dash
- 35.5-inch vertical
There are two schools of thought when it comes to running back: the position doesn’t matter as long as a team has an offensive line, or you need an elite running back to cover blocking flaws. Both philosophies can be true.
With Swift, he may be the most complete running back in the class. He has slightly above average size and contact balance, above-average speed and agility, and above-average ability in the passing game. Combine all those traits, and you have a true three-down player.
Despite being able to do it all, Swift has never been a real workhorse at the college level. In his 43 games played, he only had three occasions of 20+ carries in a game. Maybe that can be a good thing – less wear and tear on the tires. With his opportunities, he averaged 6.56 yards per carry. His yards-per-carry mark was highest in school history which is super impressive considering that Georgia is a running back factory.
Much like fellow Lions running back Kerryon Johnson, Swift never missed much time due to injuries at the SEC level, but both had their fair share of nagging injuries throughout their collegiate career.
Overall, Swift will likely be in a committee to start his career with some nice potential to give the Lions a real threat out of the backfield.
Personal selection: RB Jonathan Taylor
Julian Okwara, EDGE, Notre Dame
(Third round, 67th overall)
- 27 bench reps
For the first time in a long time, the Lions will have an EDGE rusher that is actually an elite athlete. Okwara has long arms, and really uses them well to convert speed to power in the pass rush. Per Pro Football Focus, since 2018 among NCAA EDGE defenders, Okwara has the fifth-best pass-rush win rate percentage.
The Lions' defensive scheme has always heavily prioritized stopping the run over pass-rush ability. His run defense is one aspect Okwara will need to improve upon. Okwara only had a 2.7% run stop rate in 2019 -- among the worst in the class. He can struggle to take on blocks and holding the edge. Not to pile on, but he also missed 17 tackles on 64 attempts over the past two seasons.
Considering his size, Okwara will likely start his career as a pass-rush specialist in the stand-up JACK backer role. Honestly, even though he didn’t much in college, Okwara has the fluidity to even line up off the ball if needed.
Given Okwara’s pass-rush potential in the third round, the Lions got a steal. Pass rushers that can get to the quarterback don’t come cheap. I do have concerns about how he will hold up against the run, but in a pass-happy league and considering the Lions desperate need at the position, I’ll take the good with the bad.
Personal selection: Lloyd Cushenberry, IOL, LSU
Jonah Jackson, IOL, Ohio State
(Third round, 75th overall)
- 5.23-second 40-yard dash
- 28 bench reps
Jackson was a graduate transfer from Rutgers, and chose to go to Ohio State to play against top competition. He has experience playing both guard spots and at center.
The Lions traded up to get him to make sure they would come away with at least one interior lineman to contend for the starting right guard spot. Jackson is more of a technician and a savvy vet than he is powerful or athletic. At 306-pounds, he doesn’t necessarily move people in the ground game, but he finds a way to gets the job done.
Where Jackson excels is pass protection. He only allowed one sack or quarterback hit over his last two seasons. With great balance and exceptional hand usage, Jackson is extremely difficult to get past.
As a team captain at Rutgers and highly-respected in the locker room at Ohio State, he definitely fits the Lions personality profile.
Personal selection: Neville Gallimore, DT, Oklahoma
Logan Stenberg, IOL, Kentucky
(Fourth round, 121st overall)
- 5.30-second 40-yard dash
- 4.82-second 20-yard shuttle
Back-to-back offensive guards really improved the Lions' offensive line potential. A first-team All-SEC player in 2019, Stenberg was voted as the most disliked player in the SEC -- the perfect demeanor for a guard. He uses his big frame to drive defenders, and will play to the whistle every play.
Stenberg’s game is even a little too aggressive at times, hence his 14 penalties in 2019 alone.
Despite not being labeled a pass blocker, Stenberg didn’t allow a single sack over the last two seasons. Important to note, in Kentucky’s run-heavy offense, he was rarely put in traditional pass blocking situations.
Overall, Stenberg won’t be forced into a starting role unless the Lions get bit by the injury bug. I like the Lions putting an emphasis on the offensive interior, although I think there were better players available at more pressing positions.
Personal selection: Curtis Weaver, EDGE, Boise State
Quintez Cephus, WR, Wisconsin
(Fifth round, 166th overall)
- 4.73-second 40-yard dash
- 38.5-inch vertical
At the receiver position, I like speed. The Lions are in desperate need of players who can separate. Unfortunately, that is not Cephus.
Cephus will have to battle the horrible odds of an unathletic wide receiver overcoming and finding success in the NFL. There are a few examples, like Anquan Boldin and Jarvis Landry. But, those are the exceptions, not the norm. Despite not having straight-line speed, he does possess good explosion.
However, there is a reason Cephus was a fifth-round selection. He does all the little things very well. Whether it be blocking, making catches in traffic, beating press coverage or being fearless going over the middle, the redshirt junior embraces the nuance and physicality of the game. Much like Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, Cephus is somewhat a deep threat because of his body control and strong hands.
Speaking of his hands, he does come down with some difficult catches, but he will have a focus drop here or there. Cephus had five drops on 91 targets in 2019.
While playing mostly on the outside while at Wisconsin, he did line up in the slot on occasion. It gives the Lions some versatility in that regard.
This is a classic high-floor, low-ceiling move by Quinn.
Personal selection: Quez Watkins, WR, Southern Mississippi
Jason Huntley, RB/KR, New Mexico State
(Fifth round, 172nd overall)
· 4.37-second 40-yard dash (Pro Day)
· 39.5-inch vertical (Pro Day)
Huntley was one of the couple players in the entire draft that I knew very little about. Not like that is a good gauge to evaluate talent, I just didn’t think the Lions would consider a running back who is so small.
Make no mistake, Huntley is an electric player, and could provide the Lions a replacement in the J.D. McKissic/Theo Riddick gadget-back role and also line up in the slot. I just don’t understand how he will see the field unless he supplants Jamal Agnew at kick returner or running back Ty Johnson – a recent fifth and sixth-round pick respectively.
At least Huntley can provide some serious speed to a relatively slow offense, but I would have gone with quite a few different options before selecting another running back in Huntley.
Personal selection: Netane Muti, OG, Fresno State
John Penisini, DT, Utah
(Sixth round, 197th overall)
- 23 bench reps
- 25.5-inch vertical
Oddly enough, when originally watching film on Utah DT Leki Fotu, it was Penisini who often caught my eye holding up at the point of attack. Obviously, Penisini doesn’t have the prototypical height for a gap-control defensive tackle, but he carries his weight well.
As a former rugby player, Penisini went the JUCO route for his first two seasons, and then transferred to Utah and finished as a second-team All-Pac-12 defensive tackle the last two years.
The redshirt senior only has five career sacks at the FBS level. Even with his size, he can struggle to push the pocket. His pass-rushing ability is not why the Lions drafted him, though. It’s his run defense and his ability to control the line of scrimmage that makes Penisini unique. It’s rare to ever see him get pushed around.
As a rotational piece, Penisini can likely play in multiple alignments along the line as two-down, run-stuffing type.
Personal selection: Markus Bailey, LB, Purdue
Jashon Cornell, DL, Ohio State
(Seventh round, 235th overall)
A pretty “meh” selection. Yes, it is the seventh round, but at least take a late-round flier on a player with some upside. Cornell wasn’t invited to the NFL combine, and I bet you it would be difficult to find a publication that gave him a draftable grade.
Cornell is a defensive end and tackle tweener. He has some okay lateral agility for a defensive tackle, but isn’t much of a threat as a pass rusher. He lacks power, heavy hands and two-gapping ability on the inside -- which is typically what the Lions desire in their defensive linemen. It’s an odd fit. Obviously, the Lions must have a different opinion or something else in mind for him.
It’s pretty common for late-round selections to not make the roster. As of now, Cornell is on the outside looking in, if I had to guess.
Personal selection: Terence Steele, OT, Texas Tech
Bob Quinn, Detroit Lions general manager
I don’t collectively understand the reasoning behind the Lions' last five picks as much as the first four selections -- and those are the ones that matter. In a year where Quinn had to land some immediate difference-makers, I think he pulled it off. He filled a lot of holes, and boosted positions that needed it the most.
Quinn also broke his trend of seemingly reaching for players who are perfect fits over the best player available in the early rounds. He even drafted a few players that have the traits to be special in the NFL. That hasn’t always been the case in his ultra-conservative drafts in the past. This year was a breath of fresh air.
As I always say, draft grades are pointless. It’s more about giving a quantifiable ranking on how much I personally like a player’s potential in the NFL and whether it was the right choice for the team. I wish all the Lions' rookies the best, and hope more than most that they find success -- the future of the team relies upon it.
OVERALL GRADE: B